Matt Taibbi byline, Rolling Stone #1037, October 18, 2007

I’m sitting here 90 minutes north of Chicago in my shorts and flip flops after mowing the lawn on this 77 degree October 21. While waiting for the 60 Minutes story on mega-fires in the American west, I find myself nostalgic for certain individuals, now dead, who used to tell it like it is.

There was Warren Zevon, for one. There was also Hunter S. Thompson.

I’m wistful after seeing both of these honorable ghosts in a short YouTube clip, an outtake from the Keep Me in Your Heart DVD, having fun with deluxe mixed nuts despite Warren’s case of the Steve McQueen cancer. Laughter in the face of grim and miserable facts is, at least, not fattening.

You can read all about Warren Zevon in I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon, written by his former wife Crystal. You can read about Hunter Thompson in his wife Anita’s new book The Gonzo Way: A Celebration of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson or in Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson, a new “oral biography” compiled by Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour.

I certainly plan to.

What I’m wondering, though, is where are the new voices who will assure us we are not suffering the current wretchedness alone? Where are the witnesses, like those dogs outside right now howling at neighborhood sirens, who will properly acknowledge the grave and desperate circumstances of our absurd little world?

I am not referring to the childlike sympathy of CNN’s Soledad O’Brien or CNN’s Don Lemon. I am not talking about the cultivated curmudgeonliness of CNN’s Jack Cafferty, the rabid passion of CNN’s Rick Sanchez or the random ejaculations of CNN’s Tony Harris. I am not six years old, and I am not seeking a cheap massage with a happy ending.

What I need is an “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” confirmation on the news of the day. I do get this fairly regularly from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. In the past I have praised the “special comments” written and delivered by Keith Olbermann. I continue to both enjoy his show and cringe at his slapstick segments, guest humorists, and self-congratulation.

Lately, another writer has caught my attention — Matt Taibbi writing in Rolling Stone. He is brutally frank, and has a sense of humor. For example, writing in an October 4 story on Fred Thompson, he observed:

Thompson may act like a blank slate — a homespun version of Being There hero Chauncey Gardiner running on a platform of “Whatever you say” and “I’ll get back to you on that” — but he represents something else that no one, after seven years of George W. Bush, could possibly have expected: a new low.

Taibbi is wonderful at cutting to the sense. In his October 18 look at John McCain’s campaign, he challenges McCain supporters on their candidate’s Fight The Terrorists In Iraq So We Don’t Have To Fight Them Here rationale:

“I never understood that one,” I say. “If the terrorists want to fight us here, how are we stopping them from coming by going to Iraq? Are we tying up the air-traffic controllers or something?”

Going back to the September 6 issue, we find Taibbi succinctly following the dots back home from the outsourcing of the Bush War in Iraq:

And just maybe, reviewing this appalling history of invoicing orgies and million-dollar boondoggles, it’s not so far-fetched to think that this is the way someone up there would like things run all over — not just in Iraq but in Iowa, too, with the state police working for Corrections Corporation of America, and DHL with the contract to deliver every Christmas card. And why not? What the Bush administration has created in Iraq is a sort of paradise of perverted capitalism, where revenues are forcibly extracted from the customer by the state, and obscene profits are handed out not by the market but by an unaccountable government bureaucracy.

This is journalism with appropriate proportions of fear and loathing. Admitting the problem is, after all, the first step toward recovery.

So who is this guy? Matt Taibbi’s Wikipedia bio is a whirlwind of schools, newspapers in Uzbekistan, and basketball courts in Mongolia. He, too, appears in a couple of YouTube clips. A portion of his work pertains to sports. Hunter Thompson also worked as a sports journalist, and Keith Olbermann contributes regularly to sports broadcasts. Perhaps sports and politics are two expressions of the same impetus?

In a notoriously indiscreet piece, Taibbi mocked the death of a pope and caught a lot of flack for it. It may not have been his most brilliant brainchild, but as someone who watched hours of cable news coverage on the subject, I can understand the reflex and admire the kind of twisted mind that recalls “Come On Eileen.” Hell, Warren Zevon once wrote a song mentioning brucellosis.

In an age when a candidate’s guttural exclamation can bring him down more surely than his environmental policy, it’s refreshing to find that there’s another observer out there who can distill the depravity for the edification of grownups.